Embattled ANC set to pick leader
Members of South Africa's ruling ANC will meet from Sunday to decide whether Jacob Zuma will remain at the head of the party, and the country, until 2019, despite allegations of corruption and misrule.
Roughly 4,500 delegates and assorted hangers-on will descend on the city of Bloemfontein for the quinquennial gathering, with Zuma hoping to shake off a leadership challenge and the malaise that has gripped the party.
Preliminary voting has put Zuma well ahead of his rival, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, in the leadership stakes, making him the odds-on favourite to remain in power after the 2014 elections.
But the party is reeling from one of its most serious crises since being banned by the apartheid government in 1960 and Zuma could be in for a rocky ride.
The conference will end a horrendous year for the storied revolutionary movement.
Despite the cadres' best efforts, 12 months of celebrations to mark the party's 100th year have been drowned out by allegations of corruption, flashes of authoritarianism and economic mismanagement which critics say borders on gross negligence.
"President Zuma has been a very indecisive president," said Adriaan Basson, author of "Zuma Exposed."
"Further to that, he has benefitted, his children and a lot of people around him, to a large extent in terms of business interests and positions."
The party of government and the party of Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo has seldom been weaker or seemed so out of touch with the lives of ordinary South Africans.
According to a recent Ipsos poll more than half of the ANC's own supporters believe the future of the party is uncertain because of leadership issues.
During recent by-elections voters gave an indication of their verdict. The ANC suffered an embarrassing defeat to the Inkatha Freedom Party in Zuma's home municipality.
The ward is home to Zuma's homestead of Nkandla, which controversially received a $28 million upgrade using taxpayers cash, in a country were millions live in make-shift shacks.
Looking ahead to 2014 the party faces a serious threat of losing control of Gauteng -- South Africa's economic heart, which includes Johannesburg and Pretoria -- to the opposition Democratic Alliance, which already controls the Western Cape, including Cape Town.
Yet most analysts expect Zuma to survive.
"President Zuma is a masterful strategist," said Basson.
"He's been able to survive a rape trial as well as a corruption trial where there were very serious charges levelled against him. He came out of these trials and presented himself as a victim."
Whoever wins the leadership battle faces a struggle to revive the party and silence critics.
Ahead of the Bloemfontein meeting the ANC has been harshly criticised by the clergy and the business community.
On Tuesday leading clerics issued a joint letter warning the country was in crisis because leadership had lost its way.
"The dream of a just, non-racial and prospering democracy is temporarily in eclipse," said the church leaders, including the head of the South African Council of Churches, Bishop Jo Seoka.
"We are alarmed at the growing tendency toward putting the interests of the party above the interests of the nation."
Away from the leadership challenge, investors will be looking to see what policy developments come from the conference.
With growth at a three year low, unemployment hovering around 25 percent and the education system ranking among the worst in the world, the outcome could determine whether credit ratings agencies give South Africa another downgrade.
"There are a number of these critical business issues which are still up in the air and while they are not resolved, business and investors do no react well," Nicky Newton-King, chair of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange told AFP recently.
Policy makers need "to be clear about policy direction on critical business issues," she said.
Issues like the "strategic nationalisation" of the mining sector, the increase of mining taxes, minimum wages will be up for discussion.
© 2012 AFP